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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Dalton and Hinsdale exploring a shared police department is a wise move

A ride-along with Dalton Police (copy) (copy)

Dalton Police Sgt. Bustin Buzzella responds to a domestic disturbance call during a shift in June 2021. 

Sharing is a wonderful thing — especially when it lets towns work together on preserving quality public services while minding the sustainability of their municipal budgets.

Our Opinion: Becket, Otis show smart moves on shared services

Last month, we praised Becket and Otis for teaming up to share a police chief. Now, Dalton and Hinsdale are considering a shared police department, and we’re just as enthused to see two more Berkshire towns seriously engaging with regionalization plans that make sense for smaller, rural communities.

A key driver here for Dalton and Hinsdale is a newly enacted police reform law that, among other things, requires part-time police officers in Massachusetts to meet higher training standards more in line with their full-time counterparts. This measure makes sense. Whether officers serve 10 or 40 hours per week, their duty to protect the public is no less important and the force they’re equipped to inflict is no less lethal. That’s just one of the many reasons why we supported this landmark policing legislation.

Our Opinion: Compromise offers a path forward for police reform bill

Still, as with any statewide measure, consideration should be given to communities in rural, less populous and underserved corners — particularly in Western Massachusetts — that are often overlooked. Some smaller towns, like Hinsdale, only employ part-time officers, which means meeting this new requirement is disproportionately harder for them.

In fact, Hinsdale officials characterized complying with these new part-time officer training standards as a “crushing” financial demand. Those officials twice aired their concerns with Gov. Charlie Baker, and while the governor did not respond the first time, he did last week when his administration gave Hinsdale and its neighbor, Dalton, $25,000 to study whether a shared police department could be the right move.

We certainly would have preferred a more timely response from the governor to the first inquiry, but it’s better late than never to see the state help two Berkshire towns take a good look at an elegant solution via shared services. We’d like to see more of it, as there are plenty of small towns, particularly in rural Western Massachusetts, that rely primarily or entirely on part-time officers that might find the new training requisites a heavier lift. Dalton and Hinsdale will put the money toward hiring a consultant and arranging community meetings to see if and how a shared police department between the two towns could work. They’re already used to sharing a bit when it comes to dispatching services. We’re happy to see officials approaching this possibility with some purposeful pep in their step. “We do want this done in a timely manner,” said Dalton Town Manager Tom Hutcheson, who will prepare a request for proposals.

We hope the efforts to gather residents’ perspectives is an inclusive one, and that everyone who has thoughts on this endeavor gets to share them. Community-informed policing is the best policing, so both communities should be heard. As with all regionalization talks, though, we urge everyone to resist the parochialism that sometimes make these conversations harder than necessary. There could be good-faith critiques of certain aspects of a shared police department. Those can and should be heard without giving in to unnecessary divisiveness when a creative solution is on the table to let two communities help each other in balancing effective public safety with budgetary considerations.

Officials from both sides of the town line find this a real and promising possibility. Hinsdale Town Manager Robert Graves told The Eagle he’s all for higher standards for officer training, and simply wants to make the impact less onerous on his small town’s coffers. Meanwhile, Dalton Select Board Chairman Joe Diver said that, while Hinsdale initially approached Dalton, “we all hope that the cost would be decreased together.”

We agree across the board on the potential here. If there’s a common-sense way to level up officer training in both of these communities while finding some savings through efficiency, that’s a path worth pursuing. We wish Dalton and Hinsdale luck in finding that better way forward together, and we’re hopeful their success inspires other communities in similar situations.

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